- Some of the most iconic roles in films could’ve been played by different actors.
- Actors like Angelina Jolie and Nicholas Cage turned down parts in Oscar winners “Gravity” and “The Lord of the Rings,” respectively.
- It was also recently revealed that Sandra Bullock passed on the opportunity to star as Neo in “The Matrix.” The role ultimately went to Keanu Reeves.
- Visit INSIDER.com for more stories.
Would a Han Solo who’s not Harrison Ford be the same sarcastic hero every “Star Wars” fan cherishes? What would “Lord of the Rings” look like with Nicolas Cage in one of the main roles?
Characters become iconic thanks in large part to the actors who bring them to life, and it’s often difficult to imagine anyone else in the role afterwards.
But some actors are fired from a role, some leave because of other commitments, and some just don’t accept the offer. Some actors regret turning down a project, but others, like Jack Nicholson, know that it can be the right choice, no matter how popular or critically adored the film might become.
Keep reading to see the roles that could have been played by different actors.
Matt Damon turned down the role of Harvey Dent in “The Dark Knight.”
Role was played by: Aaron Eckhart
Damon told MTV in an interview about “Invictus” that he had to turn down the iconic role of Harvey “Two-Face” Dent due to filming conflicts.
“I couldn’t [appear in The Dark Knight]. It was a scheduling thing. But, I never spoke to Chris Nolan,” Damon said.
He had no qualms regarding Nolan’s final choice for the villain.
“Look, Aaron is a great actor, so the movie didn’t suffer for it. Every once in a while you get [an acting opportunity] and you can’t do it.”
Leonardo DiCaprio turned down the role of Dirk Diggler in “Boogie Nights.”
Role was played by: Mark Wahlberg
After watching him in “The Basketball Diaries,” Paul Thomas Anderson wanted DiCaprio to star in “Boogie Nights.” DiCaprio turned it down to appear in “Titanic,” but recommended his friend and “Basketball Diaries” costar Mark Wahlberg.
DiCaprio told GQ in 2008 that he regretted turning down the role. “‘Boogie Nights’ is a movie I loved and I wish I would have done.”
When asked if he would reverse his decision if he could, DiCaprio said, “I’m not saying I would have. But it would have been a different direction, career-wise. I think they’re both great and wish I could have done them both.”
DiCaprio was also reportedly offered $US20 million by Lionsgate to portray crazed serial killer Patrick Bateman in “American Psycho,” even though director Mary Harron wanted Christian Bale in the role. She was replaced by director Oliver Stone, but DiCaprio and Stone couldn’t agree on a creative direction, so DiCaprio left to film “The Beach.” Harron returned to the project and Bale was cast.
Angelina Jolie passed on the lead in Oscar-winner “Gravity.”
Role was played by: Sandra Bullock
According to Variety, Angelina Jolie was originally set to play the lead in Alfonso Cuaron’s Oscar winner; however, she passed on the role in summer 2010.
Emily Blunt turned down the role of Black Widow in “Iron Man 2.”
Role was played by: Scarlett Johansson
“The Edge of Tomorrow” actress was the first choice to play the Black Widow in “Iron Man 2.” While Blunt has said she backed out because of timing, Deadline reported the recast resulted from a low paycheck for the actress.
Blunt told Screen Rant she had no regrets about missing out on the role but that she was still open to playing a superheroine in the future.
“I’m never regretful about not doing something; I didn’t do it at the time because it wasn’t the right time and I was contracted to do something else,” Blunt said. “But Scarlett [Johansson] has done such a phenomenal job – she’s it! Like why even reminisce about what could’ve been? She’s it and she nailed it, and I love ‘The Avengers,’ I really found it to be really good fun.”
Denzel Washington could have been Detective David Mills in “Se7en.”
Role was played by: Brad Pitt
Washington could have had Brad Pitt’s role. However, he turned down “Se7en,” deciding to work on detective thriller “Devil in a Blue Dress” instead. The actor later told Entertainment Weekly he regretted the decision after seeing a screener. “They offered me the Brad Pitt part, but I was like, ‘This is so dark and evil,'” Washington said. “Then, when I saw the movie, I was like, ‘Oh, shoot.'”
In a recent interview with theGrio, Washington said it was a “mistake.”
“I just didn’t think anybody was going to see it,” Washington said. “I don’t know what I made instead, I can’t remember, but I turned [Se7en] down. I guess Brad Pitt is happy about that.”
Jack Nicholson turned down the role of Michael Corleone in “The Godfather.”
Role was played by: Al Pacino
Al Pacino earned two Academy Award nominations for his portrayal of mob boss Michael Corleone in “The Godfather” films, but Jack Nicholson was first offered the part. In an interview with Movieline, the actor said that he passed because “back then I believed that Indians should play Indians and Italians should play Italians.”
Al Pacino turned down a lot of big roles, including an offer to play Han Solo in “Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope.”
Was played by: Harrison Ford
During the “An Evening with Pacino” event in 2013, the actor revealed that he could have played the iconic role of Han Solo in the “Star Wars” franchise.
“It was mine for the taking, but I didn’t understand the script,” he said.
He also revealed that he turned down roles in “Apocalypse Now” and “Pretty Woman,” eventually played by Marlon Brando and Richard Gere, respectively.
Tom Selleck had to pass up on playing Indiana Jones in “Raiders of the Lost Ark.”
Role was played by: Harrison Ford
After watching Ford in “Star Wars,” director Steven Spielberg wanted him to play Indiana Jones, but George Lucas, who served as an executive producer for “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” didn’t want to cast Ford in another one of his projects.
Selleck was chosen to play Jones, but had to drop out because of his contractual obligations for “Magnum, P.I.,” so Lucas relented and Ford was cast.
You can watch his screen test for “Indiana Jones” here.
Harrison Ford declined starring as Alan Grant in “Jurassic Park”
Role was played by: Sam Neill
Director Steven Spielberg and Ford had worked together for the “Indiana Jones” films, but when Spielberg offered the role of Dr. Alan Grant to Ford, he declined.
Johnny Depp was reportedly considered to star in “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.”
Role was played by: Matthew Broderick
Johnny Depp was reportedly being considered to play Ferris, a high schooler who feigns an illness to skip school and hang out in Chicago with his friends, but director John Hughes has claimed that he wrote the script with Broderick in mind.
Other actors, including Jim Carrey and Tom Cruise, were also considered.
Angela Bassett openly rejected the role of Leticia in “Monsters Ball.”
Role was played by: Halle Berry
Angela Bassett turned down the role of Leticia in “Monster’s Ball” because she found the part stereotypical and demeaning. She told Newsweek, “I wasn’t going to be a prostitute [though the role is not literally that of a prostitute] on film. I couldn’t do that because it’s such a stereotype about black women and sexuality.”
Berry became the first African-American actress to win an Oscar for Best Actress for her role in the film.
Burt Reynolds regrets turning down the role of Garrett Breedlove in “Terms of Endearment.”
Role was played by: Jack Nicholson
Though the part of Garrett Breedlove in “Terms of Endearment” was written for Reynolds, he turned it down. Nicholson ended up winning a best supporting actor Oscar for the role. Reynolds, who has never won an Oscar, told Business Insider that it’s the acting decision he regrets the most.
“I regret that one most of all because it was a real acting part,” he said. “I wish I would have done it, and thinking back now, it was really a stupid decision, but I made a lot of stupid decisions in that period. It must have been my stupid period.”
He also turned down the opportunities to play the first American James Bond and Han Solo.
Marilyn Monroe passed on the role of Holly Golightly in “Breakfast at Tiffany’s.”
Role was played by: Audrey Hepburn
Truman Capote, the author of “Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” wanted Marilyn Monroe to play Holly, but Monroe turned it down because she was warned that portraying Holly might be bad for her image.
Nicolas Cage passed up on playing Aragorn in “The Lord of the Rings”
Role was played by: Viggo Mortensen
In an interview with Newsweek, Nicolas Cage revealed that he turned down the role of Aragorn in “The Lord of the Rings” series because of the commitment involved.
“There were different things going on in my life at the time that precluded me from being able to travel and be away from home for three years,” he said.
But he also added that he doesn’t regret it because he gets to enjoy the series as a fan.
Christopher Plummer could have been Gandalf in “The Lord of the Rings” franchise.
Role was played by: Ian McKellen
Even though he was a fan of the series by J.R.R. Tolkien, Plummer turned down the role of Gandalf. In an appearance on “Conan,” the actor said that he wasn’t exactly sure why he turned it down, but it sounds like the commitment was too much at the time.
“I thought there are other countries I’d like to visit before I croak,” he said.
Sean Connery also reportedly turned the role down because he didn’t understand “The Lord of the Rings” series or script.
Ian McKellen passed up the chance to play Dumbledore in the “Harry Potter” franchise.
Role was taken over by: Michael Gambon
The actor turned down the role of Hogwarts headmaster Albus Dumbledore after Richard Harris passed away.
McKellen told the Guardian people always ask him if he wished he played Dumbledore, but since the actor played Gandalf in “The Lord of the Rings” he declined.
“People say to me, ‘Don’t you wish you’d played Dumbledore?’ I say no! I played Gandalf! The original,” he said. “There was a question as to whether I might take over from Richard Harris but seeing as one of the last things he did publicly was say what a dreadful actor he thought I was, it would not have been appropriate for me to take over his part. It would have been unfair.”
Molly Ringwald turned down the lead in “Pretty Woman.”
Role was played by: Julia Roberts
“Julia Roberts is what makes that movie. It was her part. Every actor hopes for a part that lets them shine like that,” she said.
Other actresses who also turned down the role include Michelle Pfeiffer and Daryl Hannah.
Julia Roberts passed on the playing Leigh Anne Tuohy in “The Blind Side.”
Role was played by: Sandra Bullock
Julia Roberts reportedly didn’t have interest in the script when she received it. Her passing led to Bullock taking the part – after some initial reservations. She ended up taking home the Oscar for Best Actress.
Henry Winkler passed on Danny Zuko in “Grease.”
Role was played by: John Travolta
The studio wanted Henry Winkler, known for his role as Fonzie on “Happy Days,” as Danny, leader of the T-Birds. The characters of Fonzie and Danny were similar, and Winkler was wary of being typecast, so he passed.
John Travolta declined to play the lead in “Forrest Gump.”
Role was played by: Tom Hanks
John Travolta reportedly turned down the titular role in “Forrest Gump.” Hanks won his second best actor Oscar for his portrayal.
Travolta also turned down two other films in which Tom Hanks was later cast: “Splash” and “Apollo 13.”
The actor told MTV he didn’t regret turning down any movies that eventually went to Hanks.
“If I didn’t do something Tom Hanks did, then I did something else that was equally interesting or fun,” he said in 2007. “Or if I didn’t do something Richard Gere did, I did something equally well. But I feel good about some I gave up because other careers were created.”
Tom Cruise had to turn down the role of Ren McCormack in “Footloose”
Played by: Kevin Bacon
Tom Cruise impressed the casting directors for “Footloose” with his moves in “Risky Business,” but because of his involvement with “All the Right Moves,” he couldn’t do the film.
Rob Lowe also auditioned three times for the part, but an injury prevented him from taking the gig.
Charlie Hunnam turned down the lead in the “Fifty Shades of Grey” adaptation.
Role was played by: Jamie Dornan
The “Sons of Anarchy” star was originally cast in the lead for the highly anticipated adaptation, but he later dropped out, telling Moviefone he had a “nervous breakdown.“
“I just said, ‘I can’t, I can’t,'” Hunnam said. “Fifty’s going to be massive, it’s going to be huge. I really didn’t want to fail on such a grand scale and I just couldn’t transition from Jax Teller to Christian Grey in 48 hours. I bit off more than I could chew and it was painful. I loved the character and I wanted to do it … It was one of those damned if you do, damned if you don’t situations.”
Bette Midler passed on playing Sister Mary Clarence in “Sister Act.”
Role was played by: Whoopi Goldberg
After the character was originally written for Bette Midler, she ended up not accepting it because she worried that her fans wouldn’t want to see her playing a nun.
Anne Hathaway could have starred in “Silver Linings Playbook.”
Role was played by:Jennifer Lawrence
Harvey Weinstein told Howard Stern that Anne Hathaway was his choice for “Silver Linings Playbook”: “She’s marvellous and wonderful, and she was my choice. I love her … We had Annie and then we had Mark [Wahlberg], and then whatever happened happened.”
He also added that director David O. Russell and Hathaway disagreed about a few things.
“David and Anne had some creative differences … They didn’t see eye-to-eye,” he said.
Donna Gigliotti told Deadline that scheduling conflicts with Hathaway’s commitment to “The Dark Knight Rises” prohibited her from doing the film. Wahlberg also had to drop out because of another commitment.
Will Smith turned down the role of Django in “Django Unchained.”
Role was played by: Jamie Foxx
Smith spent hours talking about the film with director Quentin Tarantino, but ultimately did not accept the role because of creative differences. He told The Hollywood Reporter, “To me, it’s as perfect a story as you could ever want: a guy that learns how to kill to retrieve his wife that has been taken as a slave. That idea is perfect. And it was just that Quentin and I couldn’t see” eye-to-eye.
Smith wanted it to be about love, not vengeance.
“We can’t look at what happens in Paris [the terrorist attacks] and want to f— somebody up for that,” he said. “Violence begets violence. I just couldn’t connect to violence being the answer. Love had to be the answer.”
Smith also turned down the role of Neo (Keanu Reeves) in “The Matrix.”
Hugh Jackman was asked to play James Bond years ago and he’s still not dismissing it.
Role was played by: Daniel Craig
Hugh Jackman revealed that he was asked to play the iconic 007 years ago, but declined because of his role as Wolverine in the “X-Men” films, specifically “X-Men 2” at that time. Daniel Craig took over from Pierce Brosnan following 2002’s “Die Another Day.”
Jackman told the Hollywood Reporter in 2015 he would “seriously consider” playing Bond.
Josh Hartnett turned down the chance to play the Man of Steel in “Superman Returns.”
Role was played by: Brandon Routh
Josh Hartnett told Details magazine he was once in contention to play nearly every big superhero but wasn’t interested in any of them.
“Spider-Man was something we talked about,” Hartnett said. “Batman was another one. But I somehow knew those roles had potential to define me, and I didn’t want that. I didn’t want to be labelled as Superman for the rest of my career. I was maybe 22, but I saw the danger.”
In a 2015 interview with Playboy, Hartnett recently said he regretted passing up on some of the roles, including one in Christopher Nolan’s “Batman Begins.”
“I should have been part of the relationship with this guy Nolan, who I felt was incredibly cool and very talented,” he said. “I was so focused on not being pigeonholed and so scared of being considered only one thing as an actor. I should have thought, ‘Well, then, work harder, man'”. Watching Christian Bale go on to do so many other things has been just awesome. I mean, he’s been able to overcome that. Why couldn’t I see that at the time?”
Sandra Bullock passed up playing computer hacker Neo in “The Matrix.”
Role was played by: Keanu Reeves
According to a producer named Lorenzo di Bonaventura, Warner Bros. was looking to cast a major actor for the role of Neo and offered the part to Sandra Bullock. Di Bonaventura told The Wrap that they were searching for the right star and “were getting desperate.” He added that they were also willing to change Neo to a female role if Bullock accepted.
“We sent her the script to see if she was interested in it,” di Bonaventura said. “And if she was interested in it we would try to make the change.”
Bullock ultimately passed and the role went to her “Speed” co-star, Keanu Reeves.
“It just wasn’t something for her at the time,” di Bonaventura said.” So really it didn’t go anywhere.”
Halle Berry was offered a role in the 1994 movie “Speed,” but she “stupidly” turned it down.
Role was played by: Sandra Bullock
Long before starring alongside Keanu Reeves in “John Wick 3,” Berry was offered the role of Annie alongside him in “Speed.” Speaking to “Entertainment Tonight,” Berry explained that she passed on the role because “in my defence when I read the script, the bus didn’t leave the parking lot.”
Business Insider Emails & Alerts
Site highlights each day to your inbox.